There are an estimated 90 million Americans who perform volunteer service every year. Sometimes, volunteers have accidents. They may injure themselves, injure someone else or have an auto accident involving property damage. If they are volunteer board members they could risk suit if there are financial or human resource issues in your organization.
If you work with volunteers, you should be concerned about how to manage their risks and yours. In some states, your organizations commercial general liability policy may cover a claim involving a volunteer. This could affect your own liability policy by reducing your available limits of coverage; it also impacts your organizations experience rating. General liability policies may have exclusions that affect volunteers like incidents involving travel between the volunteer’s home and their place of service. If you have volunteers who drive on your behalf, your commercial auto policy likely provides little or no protection and the volunteer would be left to rely totally on their own insurance for liability. Even including volunteers as named insured’s under your policy has significant risk. In that case, you would be sharing your limits of liability and your claims experience with an individual where you don’t have an employer/employee relationship.
There are protections that a volunteer can turn to when and if they face a suit arising out of their volunteer activities - volunteer protection laws, generally called Good Samaritan laws, at the state and federal levels, and insurance. If you are involved with a nonprofit, you should make sure to understand both of these areas as they apply to your organization. Some volunteers who are homeowners, or even insured renters, may have coverage for volunteer activities under existing policies or, if not, they may be able to obtain an endorsement. Unfortunately, homeowner’s and renters' policies don't usually cover losses stemming from alleged "wrongful acts." They generally limit coverage to damages from bodily injury or property damage or perhaps extend to personal injury (libel, slander, defamation, invasion of privacy, etc.). At a minimum, you should be asking your volunteers to check their policies and discuss their volunteer service with their insurance agent to determine the extent to which these policies provide coverage.
Nonprofit policies are available that will defend a volunteer under many different circumstances. One option is Volunteer Liability coverage that is often combined with a Volunteer Accident policy and purchased by the nonprofit. Depending on the company and the policy, these policies can provide up to $1 million in personal liability insurance and $500,000 in excess automobile liability insurance above the volunteer's own insurance as part of its volunteer insurance package. This coverage would provide protection for a personal injury or property damage liability claim arising out of the volunteer's duties with the nonprofit. As personal liability coverage, it may exclude errors and omissions in connection with the volunteer's professional services. In some cases, state-sponsored insurance programs may offer volunteer coverage at a reasonable cost. In Washington State for example, a state supported program offers malpractice insurance at reduced rates to retired physicians who want to volunteer.
Volunteers who driving their own auto while providing service for a nonprofit should be advised to review their personal auto coverage to assure it will extend protection to the nonprofit while the volunteer is driving or behalf of the nonprofit. Washington State requires owners of a motor vehicle to purchase minimum levels of liability insurance or show other evidence of financial responsibility. Volunteers should review their policy limits and consider the need to increase these limits depending on the nature of the services they provide to a nonprofit or the nonprofit should seek coverage to supplement the individual volunteer’s policy.
If you have a group of volunteers who work with your nonprofit, you know that they are like gold – hard to find and easy to slip through your fingers. It is worth a few minutes of your time to consult with your Washington insurance agent to review your business activities and see what you might need to be certain your volunteers are protected. Homer Smith Insurance has 60 years of experience here on the peninsula and we are standing by to help.